Black Feminism on the Fourth of July

Great Auntie Mabel, Grandma Nellie and Aunt Ella Marie.

When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
Is it when time no longer has relevancy?
No, the twenty-first century
Does not free me.
When there’s a pandemic and I become
The most essential worker in your economy
Nursing the old in your old folk homes
And ringing up your grocery
And then I die disproportionately
Am I free?
Or am I still your mammie?

When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
Or does it depend on what you expect from me?
What you tell me is my responsibility?
To hold up the Community.
From organizing to tending to baptizing
To showing up to see the incarcerated
And serving your needs of intimacy
Without choosing or salary or thank you
If a no is beyond possibility
Then is a yes really a yes?
When did I get free?
Or Am I now the Universal Mammie?

When is a slave no longer a slave?
Is it when she thinks she is free?
After forced breeding to fuel an economy
To now high maternal mortality
Suffering malaise from the weight
Of your systemically racist society
Your state sponsored violent policy
To deny me a wage to live decently
Housing me in your public
plantation shanty equivalency
Slave mammie is living among you
And you don’t even see me.
But here we come dragging our chains
Into the twenty-first century.
Am I as invisible as she
Is sanitized and imaginary?

When is a State no longer a purveyor of slavery?
If you wash your hands does that mean you are free?
What you still expect from me
I think that is the skeleton key.
You want mammie’s lap and the lullaby
But you still after so many years
Don’t celebrate setting me free
Begrudge my indemnity
My equal opportunity
YOU enslaved ME!
And now have the nerve
To call me a welfare queen!
You keep your knee on the neck
Of the multigenerational me
Then ask why do I protest
Why I can’t breathe.
Honey, mammie can’t rock you to sleep no more.
Mammie is angry.
Mammie is here in the street.
Just saying free me.

Fix this shit and
Free ME.

Rhea Harmsen
Fourth of July, 2020

(Note: Mammie is an imaginary white creation not grounded in historical fact but that has, nevertheless, infected the collective American psyche).


About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
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3 Responses to Black Feminism on the Fourth of July

  1. Joyce Harmsen says:

    Yes! You are the “pupil of the eye” that truth shines through, my dear sister!

  2. Amy H Richardson says:

    Love your language!

  3. This is good – it sums it all up – all the ways in which we suffer under the weight of enslavement. It is forever true for now.

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